Sunday, December 28, 2014

Volunteering 2015 - Time to wake up!

I've been involved with volunteering now as a volunteer and volunteer manager for almost 35 years! As the year draws to an end I like to look at the state of volunteering. This year I am not greatly comforted by what I see but there are hopeful signs.
The big topic that I think that will define volunteering in 2015 will be the definition of volunteering

The definition of Volunteering

“Volunteering is an activity performed in the not for profit sector only.” This is part of the definition of volunteering by Volunteering Australia. This definition is wrong. It is an insult to thousands of volunteers in Australia who still volunteer for organizations that have been privatized such as hospitals, nursing homes etc. and it even questions publicly owned institutions like organizations owned by government.
I was recently at the IAVE conference on volunteering also known as the world conference on volunteering. I participated in a great workshop on the “definition of volunteering” I believed that I had something to contribute because I heard that VA was exploring the definition of volunteering. I gave my number and contact details. What do I get? No call. No email. Nothing. If you want to discuss definitions of volunteering folks please talk to people who sit outside your so called definitions and scope of practice! Get out of your echo chambers! If you want to stick with your archaic definitions that is long as you talk with others with diverse views.


I think that organizations like Volunteering Tasmania and Volunteering Queensland are leading the field! I base this on their thinking, their websites and their people. Volunteering NSW is up there with them. In fact most of the state bodies seem to be up there with the times while VA still suffers from an old fashioned image in my view.
No Progress:

I am a Volunteer Manager. An individual. I have a blog. That is it. Volunteer manager associations (VMAs) should be involved in this talk. The problem with VMAs is that they have no narrative. Especially in Australia. I won’t have this blog published on the AAMOV site as it will exist outside their echo chamber. As a blogger who has close to a quarter million page views it’s pretty poor when your own association won’t even link to you. But there is a lot of politics in play in Volunteer Management believe it or not.

The year ahead can be an opportunity for volunteering and volunteer management. I say this every year. But the reason I have returned to blogging this year is to call a spade a spade. In the past I was chased away from speaking my thoughts by some personal attacks. Not criticism or disagreement. I can always argue the point. Volunteering and volunteer management needs a voice. Right now there’s not much volume to that voice. I aim to be a voice once more. Because right now Volunteering doesn’t even know what it is according to our peak body and our body representing out volunteer mangers is fairly toothless!
This will only change by the expression of these sentiments!
Thanks for following my blog and have a wonderful 2015!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Volunteer Managers: We’re still a little bit too Fluffy!

I've been to many workshops and conferences on Volunteer Management over the last 17 years. One that still stands out in my memory was a presentation by Martin J Cowling. My memory of it may not be precise but he showed a photo of what he felt many people thought of Volunteering. It was a big Teddy Bear.  Nice, fluffy, feel good and ever so cuddly. At the time it hit the target straight in the bull’s eye!

Unfortunately I think volunteering is thought of like that today. Nice, comfy, feel good emotions abound when people think of volunteering. Volunteers are the Lifeblood of society. Lovely volunteers. We couldn’t do it without your big hearts. Bleh!

Jayne Cravens, a Volunteer management consultant among many other talents has rallied against the fluffy language in which we describe volunteers and volunteering. She’s even warned us about International Volunteer Managers Day turning into something similar.

I recently read a blog on the difficulty Volunteer Managers had in firing a volunteer. Now don’t get me wrong. Releasing a volunteer can be an uncomfortable experience. But I am sure no more uncomfortable than a manager firing a member of paid staff. But in a comment posted by Rob Jackson he went on to say
“I recall being struck by Rick Lynch and Steve McCurley's thinking on this topic years ago. They were quite clear that if we have to fire a volunteer we have to acknowledge that somewhere along the line some aspect of our volunteer management has failed.” 

I couldn't disagree more with Rick and Steve!

This would not be the case for a manager of Human Resources needing to do what they needed to do. Sometimes something’s go bad. Through no fault of the managers. A volunteer who enters a program through the appropriate stages and who then repeatedly breaches either conduct or your mission and who is managed professionally and properly through these difficulties and who is eventually asked to leave may not be a sign that volunteer management has failed. Why take that simplistic view. And I am sure that most VMs would agree with me. Plus I believe the theory is dangerous insofar that it may discourage VMs to take firm action because they might think that some aspect of their management has failed!

The other thing that struck me about this blog on was that fact that this is the hardest thing in the world. Please. If we can’t have the strength to do this and do this properly then we shouldn't be managing people. If we come to the end of the line and are worried about making this final decision and are worried about hurting feelings then we are lacking some key managerial skills.

Of course we should care about volunteers as any manager should care about their team. But if we can’t face a toxic or belligerent volunteer and have that difficult conversation then we need to question our ability to be a VM. Neither should we walk away from that final meeting feeling gutted and sad and sorry for the volunteer. As long as we are following due process we should walk away feeling that this is what we had to do and that this was in the best interest of the team and the organization.

If we want to advance as a sector and be taken seriously we have a lot of growing up to do. We are not there to “look after the Vollies”. We complain when organizations ask team members who have no VM experience to “look after the Vollies”. We need to advocate for volunteers and volunteering yes! We need to advocate for our own roles yes. We need to fight for resources respect and recognition Yes. But we should not contribute to the fluffy Teddy bear view of volunteering.

If we bring too much emotion to the job of managing volunteers we need to question ourselves. I once had a senior member of an organization express outrage at my decision not to take on a volunteer after I interviewed them. There were many good reasons I did not take on that volunteer and I stuck to my guns! Imagine a HR manager begin similarly criticized. It doesn't happen.

Being too nice simply because we are involved with volunteers can be dangerous. We become afraid to challenge toxic volunteers. We are weakened when we deal with volunteers who may bully. We take on volunteers we should never take on.

Yes we all know that volunteerism is a powerful movement. But it is a movement powered by people and sometime we encounter people who do not fit for various reasons and we need strength and confidence in dealing with this.

Not tears. Not guilt. Not hand wringing.

A cold view? No. A realistic and self-caring view. There are many VMs out there that need to hear this. The fluffy language of some commentary within our sector will not help them.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Tears for Volunteers

I've been to six funerals this year. All volunteers who were part of our team. Today I was at one of them. Tony (not his real name) volunteered for 18 months. At his initial interview he surprised me. He revealed that he had terminal cancer and that he wanted to do positive things with the rest of his life and volunteer. I later learnt that he had been a positive guy most of his life. His spirit always shone through. Always smiling. Always kind. Tony actually inspired me to do Movember last year. I raised some money for men’s cancer such as prostrate. Today I shed a tear, no; I shared a few at Tony’s service. His volunteering was mentioned in the Eulogy, pictures of him in his volunteer uniform flashed up on a screen with other memories of his life.

Afterwards I stood near a field near where the service took place. Kangaroos stood and watched me. Their Joeys were sneaking peeks at me from their pouches. Grey clouds rolled across a vast sky and a gentle breeze kept the temperature at comfortable. It was a serene moment as I stood there reflecting. And I thought of Volunteer managers across the world and the different circumstances they deal with throughout their career.

Death is never easily spoken about. The subject can shine a light upon your own mortality. It can reopen painful wounds. When a volunteer passes on it can affect your team, your staff and you.

I don’t know of any other manager within my organization that has gone to as many team member funerals this year. Yes there have been some. And yes – the grief is just as strong.

People on the paid workforce normally retire mid sixties. It may be later in some countries, earlier in others. Volunteers, volunteer on. Many retirees volunteer. The previous funeral I attended was for a precious and wonderful 95 year old volunteer. But death has not discriminated with age this year. There have been tragedies and sad surprises.

The fact is that we do have an older population in many cases on many of our teams. We welcome this. We welcome all ages. I have no data or proof that Volunteer Managers deal more with death than any other managers of paid people in many workplaces. But I suspect this may be the case.

I see very little written on the subject. I've broached the topic previously but got no comment or reaction. It is as if it’s an uncomfortable topic. But I also know that many people who lead volunteers and are reading this are nodding their heads right now.

There are no steadfast rules on grief and coping with the death of a team member be it sudden or expected. It’s good just to know that you are not alone out there and that many of us have this experience. We can grieve too. In our own way and in our own time. But we also need to give ourselves permission to talk about these things. Can we share how we deal with this at our next network meeting or write a response here for other people to see or write our own blog?

We often put on a brave face. We are there for our organizations, the volunteers, the staff, the clients, and much more. We deal with sad news and put on a happy face for the next volunteering shift, the next meeting or concentrate on the next report.

We deal professionally with the minute matters that seem huge to some people after we return from a heart wrenching funeral. And that’s us. Volunteer Managers. We keep on going on.

But we need self-care too. We need to take the time out to reflect. We too need that bit of space. Keeping on going on could well lead to burn out. We need to support each other as well as our teams. We need to be kind to ourselves.

Being at a volunteer funeral can feel like being at a family funeral. In a way they are similar. Volunteers pull together like families. There are hugs, tears, laughing at the funnier times and fun memories. But then we all go home to our own lives. We give an extra hug to those that love us and to those that we love.

I write this in memory of all the volunteers who have passed away this year.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Getting Shit Done in Volunteer Management while thinking big and having fun!

Tonight I sat down at this computer and I looked at my list on what I would write about Volunteer Management. I have already identified topics that I will write about but after picking one and then looking at another I thought many random thoughts. I’ve often talked about the need for Effective Volunteer management but haven’t expanded on what that means

And recently I came across a short but wonderful article from Jeff Weiner who is the CEO at LinkedIn. It had such an impact on me that I shared it in my volunteers newsletter and I have the three statement mantras now on a big whiteboard in my office.

"Several weeks ago, I shared the above Venn diagram in a status update. With 20k+ likes and comments on LinkedIn and over 2.2k retweets and favorites on Twitter, it's become the most viral update I've shared to date. As a result, thought it might be interesting to provide some additional context on where the diagram came from.
It all started in a meeting where a talented team was presenting their plan for a potentially high impact initiative. Midway through, they covered the measurable results they expected to achieve in three years. Granted, they were being somewhat conservative, but their objectives were still way off what I would have expected them to be targeting based on the addressable opportunity and the assets we were bringing to the table.
Without hesitation, I challenged the team to increase their long-term goal by roughly 20x. Regardless of whether or not they could hit the target (which I think they can), the point was to get them thinking much bigger, without constraints, and to start by asking the question, "What would it take...?"
Dream Big
Oftentimes, my favorite exchanges are with people who are naturally predisposed to think at truly massive scale and without limitations. When well reasoned, that kind of vision can be highly inspirational, change the way teams solve for a specific opportunity or challenge, and ultimately, transform the trajectory of a company. During this particular meeting, I ended up writing down two simple words to capture this quality: "Dream big," with the intention of cascading the theme more broadly.
Get Shit Done
Almost immediately after seeing those words in writing, I realized the message was incomplete. The team leading the discussion that day may have been conservative in their approach to articulating what was possible, but they were also highly capable and credible -- and had a proven track record of delivering results. Demanding excellence is an important value for us. It's something I would never want taken for granted or crowded out by the singular objective of thinking at scale. Asking people to dream big without delivering on the vision was not only an incomplete sentiment; it could carry the unintended consequence of producing pie-in-the-sky thinking without anything to show for it.
If a goal is truly visionary, it's going to be confronted by doubters, skeptics, and those threatened by its realization. As a result, there will always be walls put up on the way to achieving the objective. Some of the most capable people I've worked with know how to go over, around, or straight through those walls by virtue of their resourcefulness and sheer force of will. In other words, they just "get shit done."
I added those three words to my notes, drew overlapping circles around "Get shit done" and "Dream big", and thought about how invaluable it is to work with people at the intersection of the two.
Know How to Have Fun
It then occurred to me that I've known a number of people who embodied the ability to dream big and get shit done, but who also proved very difficult to work with. Perhaps shielded by the immense value they brought to their respective organizations, they never cultivated the ability to manage compassionately, or even cared to. Rather, they did things their way and expected everyone around them to adapt accordingly. More often than not, that's exactly what people did.
While this has clearly proven to work at some now legendary companies, it's not an easily scalable or reproducible model, it's not necessary, and in my opinion, it's not fun (I say in my opinion because there are those who will argue that winning is fun, regardless of the means employed).
I've reached a point in my career where I want to be surrounded by people who not only share a vision, but a genuine commitment to upholding their company's culture and values. They are team players, don't take themselves too seriously, and "know how to have fun." And with that, I added a third circle to the Venn diagram.
At the nexus of these three circles are the people I most enjoy working with. I'm extraordinarily grateful to have the opportunity to do that every day.”

Wow! Talk about a short article having an impact on me and one which I think every Volunteer Manager should read. I am extraordinarily grateful to work with a Volunteer team every day of the week that embodies these sentiments and I really believe these are the teams we need within organizations.

Dream Big

 I manage a team based on feedback and consultation. Yes I direct when necessary but I want everything I do to be a vision of the team as a whole. And we Dream Big! Volunteers have often given me the idea behind an innovative program.

We Get Shit Done

If my team say they are going to do something..They do something! Usually it is something amazing. I have the best Can Do Team in Australia.

Know How to Have Fun

If you are a Volunteer manager who doesn't know how to have fun then you are behind the eight ball before you begin. Stop taking yourself so seriously. You are leading a team that want to give of their time and that are often involved in serious matters but would appreciate a bit of fun in turn for their commitment.

I have great fun each day with my team. They know my humour and give it back to me in spades. But it’s appropriate humour and it demonstrates not only camaraderie but respect too. Fun is so underestimated in our profession.

Try putting these Mantras on your whiteboard. Forget the past. It’s no longer there. Don’t worry about a future that is yet to happen and manage your teams in the beautiful Here and Now. Try it! Let go a little and loosen up! 

“The challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude; be kind, but not weak; be bold, but not bully; be thoughtful, but not lazy; be humble, but not timid; be proud, but not arrogant; have humour but without folly.” – Jim Rohn

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

15 Years and 15 reasons why International Volunteer Managers Day Matters.

November 5th marks the 15th year anniversary of IVMD. Personally I ask myself “where has that time gone?” its gone fast that’s for sure. They say time goes fast when you are busy. If that’s truly the case the life of a Volunteer Manager goes as fast as a rocket through space!

Here are 15 reasons why I think Volunteer Managers Day still matters

1.       It’s a day for society to pause and think about Volunteer Management. What is Volunteer Management? What does it encompass? If it attracts a few people across the globe that has no idea what Volunteer Management is about then it is doing its job. It adds to the narrative on Volunteer Management

2.       It helps highlight a sector that still has little recognition or understanding in society. Some will disagree with this point. Note the word “little”. Once there was no recognition and understanding of Volunteer Management in society. The fact that we have gotten to “little” is progress. Progress no matter how small is still progress.

3.       It is a day for us to get together and celebrate our profession. We are not gathering to set off fireworks and pat each other on the back. We are gathering to reflect on what we do and the difference we make.

4.       It’s a wonderful vehicle for education. It’s the one day when people ask us what IVMD is all about, where we can share the inspiring role that Volunteer Managers can and do play.

5.       It gives us the opportunity to engage with our own organizations. Our own organizations hopefully value volunteer effort. This is our opportunity to talk about what Volunteer Managers do and how they contribute to the success of volunteer programs. Of course we should be doing this all year round but it’s about having a day to really push a message through.

6.       It’s about Recognition. We can’t say “Recognition” is a dirty word especially when “Recognition” figures prominently in how we manage volunteer programs. For me recognition of effective Volunteer Management and recognition of volunteers are the same side of the coin!

7.       It advances the sector. I imagine that 90% of the population doesn’t see us as a sector. As IVMD grows that will decrease.

8.       It’s political! Sometimes we find it hard to engage with our community representative i.e. MPs, MEPs, TDs. Etc. IVMD gives us an excuse to engage. Today I tweeted a message about IVMD to my Prime Minister, the opposition leader and to my local MP where I work. The local MP has already retweeted.

9.       Social Media: 15 years ago Social Media was hardly used or existent in many forms. Today it is so easy to spread information on IVMD.  You can search for IVMD on Facebook where it has its own site. You can tweet about the day. You can blog. You can use the hashtag #ivmd14 and connect with leaders across the globe in seconds.

10.   It’s a day for Volunteer Management Awards! When I was president of the Australasian Association of Volunteer Administrators I gave birth to the idea of recognizing Volunteer Managers. Today AAMOV recognizes Volunteer Managers with its annual Volunteer Manager awards, something that has never been done before. Can you do the same in your country?

11.   It connects us with peak bodies for volunteering. Whether it is Volunteering Australia, Volunteering Canada, Volunteering Ireland or Volunteering Queensland and Volunteering New South Wales it give our peak bodies a platform for discussing Volunteer Management (hopefully) and if your own national or state volunteering body has no dialogue on those who manage volunteers it gives them the opportunity to explore and discuss what we do. It encourages you and them to engage!

12.   It gives Volunteer Managers around the globe an opportunity to contribute meaningfully to the cause. The IVMD committee is always looking for new members and new innovative ideas. Join them. Make a difference globally!

13.   It can and should be directly linked to volunteers. It’s time to inform organizations that if you value volunteering you value effective Volunteer Management. Volunteers themselves should be harnessed to support IVMD. Volunteers should know about IVMD.

14.   It should be a vehicle for promotion with traditional media (as opposed to Social Media). Are there articles and letters in your local or national paper on Volunteer Management? If not can you make a contribution? Are there articles today on Pro Bono News, The Charity Channel, Third Sector , ABC, BBC, CNN, ITN, The Huffington Post etc. If there are not then we only have ourselves to blame. Utilize IVMD to write. If you don’t get Media attention write and write again and get more of your colleagues writing.

15.   Finally, it’s a day to say simply, Thank you. Thank you for choosing this profession or calling or whatever you choose to call it. Thanks for being there for volunteers. For leading them. For coordinating them. For creating programs where individuals can shine and inspire. For facilitating circumstances where people needs are met. For making a real difference to society. Thank you. Happy IVMD!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Back Blogging and my Top Ten reasons for doing so

It’s been well over a year since I last blogged. As inundated as I was by the 1435 emails in total asking why I had not blogged recently or where had I gone I had decided to take a hiatus. There were a few reasons and I’ll be honest with you my blog reader or fan (both of you)

1.       Life got very busy: Kids. Work. Theatre. Social life. Enough to silence any blogger.

2.       Disenchantment: a feeling that the Volunteer Management sector was going around in circles and going nowhere and I was getting dizzy.

3.       Health; Not the best of years.

So 3 real reasons. I’m not doing too badly now to those 504 people who are about to post a comment if I am OK. And my sarcasm has not been dented at all.

But suffice to say I am back on my horse and those Sacred Cows of our sector should be shaking in their boots. I have much to say.

Nearly a quarter of a million page views have made this blog and I am looking forward to passing that mark soon.  Here are some of the topics I plan on covering in the next 12 months. If you are interested you will come back. Here are my top 10:

1.       Student volunteering: why we are driving them away
2.       Educating paid staff on Volunteering
3.       Why International Volunteer Managers Day Matters more now than ever
4.       Volunteering Definition: Get with the program
5.       On why we are focusing on the wrong issues
6.       Volunteer Management Associations: How are they going?
7.       Where are all the VMs gone and why are we not tracking their reasons for leaving?
8.       Volunteering worth billions? – why no one is listening
9.       What is Effective Volunteer Management?
10.   What do volunteers want when it comes to volunteer management?

If you have any other topic that you would like covered or any questions that I could cover please let me know.

I may be back – but mark my words, I aint holding back. Watch this space!

Real life comments on DJ Cronin’s writing:

“Well DJ – I think the wonderful thing is that it is an Irish man pushing the envelope – pity we can’t all sit down with a Guinness and have a good old chin wag about this!”

“Congratulations DJ for bringing out into the open one of the areas of discussion that we as a sector need to have.”
“I say bring on more discussion about our “Sacred Cow” issues to that we can continue to challenge ourselves and set up true, achievable and evolving benchmarks for our sector.”

“Thanks DJ for putting your head above the parapet and being prepared to share your thoughts.”

“Thanks again for more laugh out loud moments (a health giving exercise I understand’! )”

“I have no idea what he is on about”

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